After this Saturday, seniors David Bruton and Maurice Crum Jr. will have just one more opportunity to run out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium as players. Bruton and Crum have had varying levels of success throughout their careers at Notre Dame, but are two games away from finishing with a perfect home record this season.
"Anytime we're playing at home it should be exciting for anybody. The fans, the players, the coaches, everybody should be extra amped up because it's your own crowd, it's the people who support you and you should have a sense of pride when you're at home that nobody should win on your field," Bruton said. "I feel like this year we have developed that sense of pride, that sense of urgency that basically they're coming on our field, they're disrespecting us. Just having that mental mindset that we're going to come out with a win."
An unbeaten home record would be quite an achievement, especially after a 1-6 home mark a year ago.
"We've done a really good job putting last year out of our minds and focusing on this year," Crum said. "I think the guys are buying in and trying to give the crowd and the fans something to get excited about."
With just a couple of more opportunities to play in front of their home crowd, Crum and Bruton are making sure to appreciate every moment.
"It's just a great place to play," Crum said. "There's been so many games, so many moments, so many things that have happened here just in my time and the history before me and right now just to be able to think that I'm a part of it. I'm just going to try to take everything in and enjoy it."
"Remembering all of the moments that I've been a part of, the moments that I've seen, all of the plays that have been made on the field during my short time here," said Bruton. "Just reminiscing of how great the feeling is to play in such a stadium with the fans always being excited and 80,000-plus cheering for just one team."
As a fifth-year senior, Crum is the team's elder statesman.
"I guess I am kind of the old man who cracks the whip," he said. "When I stand up it's like, ‘Shhh. The old man is talking.' I get a lot of that because I've been around for awhile. At the same time it has a lot to do with just the guys respecting me and what I've done and what I'm about."
Bruton saw Crum's leadership potential right away.
"When I came in as a freshman and sophomore, I didn't know what to expect and Mo kind of took me under his wing along with Zibby and Nedu, just being able to guide me," he said. "At that point, I knew he was going to be a leader and he's shown that he can be and has become one."
But it did not come completely natural to Crum.
"For me it was just a process of me growing up and just realizing that I have leadership ability, that the guys respect me a lot. It's just kind of me growing up and taking my game and my leadership to the next level," he said. "I always try to do a really good job of evaluating myself from the previous season and evaluating moments where things may have happened that I could have done differently. I think I used that and from that, that's what allowed me to grow up"
One of the things that Crum had to learn was how to address the team.
"When I first started I tried to talk to the team, I tried to think about what I was going to say and in the offseason when I evaluated myself, I realized that's not the way to reach the team," he said. "Speaking with my dad, one of the things he told me was that if you speak from your heart, it won't be wrong, it'll come out right."
Bruton is the spokesman for the secondary, but he delegates to Crum when it comes to the defense or team as a whole.
" I speak on behalf of the secondary, but we know it's Mo's defense," Bruton said. "He's the leader, he's been the leader for a couple of years now. I'm really not too vocal, I don't speak a whole lot. When I need to, I feel like I step in and do my part."
Bruton has also grown up as a team leader. The 2005 Pittsburgh game was Bruton's first as a college player and one memory stands out more than others.
"Vomiting," he said. "I remember vomiting before the game. I was so nervous. I remember places of the game. I remember the dropped interception I had going into the half. I remember the punt I tried to save. There's certain things that I remember, but overall I remember that we came out with a win and that was the start of a new era in positive way."
Fortunately, Bruton has moved past his pregame Bill Russell imitations.
"It's behind me. My stomach has settled down a lot more. I don't really have nerve problems anymore like that," he said. "I guess it was just because I was a young guy and that was a national stage. My high school was fairly small, I'd never played in front of so many people, it just got nerve-wracking."
"It's extremely important. That game is the next game on the schedule, but it just happens to be that this is a game that if we come out on top that it'll give us some people who will start lobbying for us," Crum said. "We'll start gaining some of that respect. I think it's in our hands and it's our turn, we've just got to step up down the line."
Bruton said that the coaches have talked about the importance of this game.
"The coaches have pressed on the issue that it's a big game. Not merely for the fact that it's the next game, but it's Pitt, they have a winning record and this will give us a lot of support in the national realm of things," he said.
"He does a lot of things similar," Crum said. "If I had to guess, I'd think he'd be a fan of Reggie Bush."
A win over Pitt and McCoy would give Notre Dame a serious shot at cracking the Top 25, although Bruton does not pay much attention to those things.
"I generally don't check it. Maybe on a Saturday before the game when we're watching GameDay or something in the room just looking at the matchups that are going on," he said. "But other than that I don't really pay attention to the Top 25. We're just here trying to earn our respect and to play in a bowl game come January."